Asthma Triggers

MYTH:  "The worker was predisposed to develop asthma—anyone could see that from his history of childhood allergies."

FACT:  Most patients with work-related asthma do not have a history of allergies.  This is especially true for asthma caused by exposure to low molecular weight chemicals such as isocyanates. Isocyanates are one of the most common causes of work-related asthma reported in Michigan.  However, workers who have a history of allergies are at an increased risk of developingwork-related asthma to animal dander in labs, flour in bakeries or platinum in platinum refineries.

MYTH:  "It's their own cigarette smoking habits that caused their work-related asthma."

FACT:  Smoking does not increase the risk of getting work-related asthma.  Some studies have found increased levels of antibodies (Serum IgE), or shorter time to the development of asthma in smokers.  Among the patients reported in Michigan, most were not smoking when they developed their asthma symptoms.

MYTH:  "The company, as well as MIOSHA reports, say they've done air testing.  All those tests came in below the MIOSHA limits.  So, it must not be work-related asthma."

FACT:  Most MIOSHA workplace standards have not been developed to protect against work-related asthma.  Many workers with breathing symptoms work in companies that meet MIOSHA standards or work with substances that do not have a MIOSHA standard.

MYTH:  "A proper pre-placement screening would prevent people from being hired into work places where they develop work-related asthma."

FACT:  No combination of pre-placement testing (such as a medical history, skin testing, or specialized breathing tests called methacholine challenge testing) has been able to adequately predict who will develop work-related asthma.  Also, because of the way this testing is designed, it would exclude a large number of people from working with substances that could cause work-related asthma, but these people would never actually develop work-related asthma.

MYTH:  "Workers with asthma should just transfer to a different job in their company, or find another job somewhere else.  That would take care of the problem."

FACT:  People with work-related asthma often continue to have breathing problems even after exposures to substances in their jobs are reduced or they are no longer exposed to the substance at all.  The longer a person with work-related asthma continues to be exposed to the substance, the more likely their symptoms will not resolve even if they are no longer exposed.

MYTH:  "How could he develop work-related asthma now?  He's been working at that company for over ten years!"

FACT:  Work-related asthma, by definition, develops after a period of time of exposure where the person has no breathing problems.  The period of time when no symptoms are present can range from months to more than 20 years.  The beginning of work-related asthma may happen with a change in the job, changes in the level of exposure to an allergen, spills or other high level exposures.

MYTH:  "His symptoms are happening at night, not at work.  So, it can't be work-related."

FACT:  Some people with work-related asthma do not have breathing problems at work, but their symptoms start at night, 8-12 hours after exposure.  In this case, the only way to find out if the breathing problems are work-related may be to see if the person’s breathing problems get better when they are away from work for at least two weeks.

MYTH:  "I know doctors are required by Michigan law to report patients with work-related asthma.  But the patient's employer will fire him if the company is inspected because of his work-related asthma."

FACT:  Inspections at the work place are done after talking with the patient.  If inspected, the patient's name is kept confidential.  No one has been fired since the State's tracking program for work-related asthma began in 1988. Get an occupational disease reporting form.

To submit an occupational disease report for known or suspected work-related asthma, go to the MSU Occupational and Environmental Medicine website: www.oem.msu.edu. Then, on the right side of the web page click the button: On-Line Occupational Disease Report Form.